The New to Social Executive: Actions to Get Ready

As a senior executive starting to use social collaboration there will be a little nervousness when you engage at first, unless you are supremely confident or incredibly extroverted. You need opportunities to practice your new mindsets and learn new skills of social collaboration before you hit the main game. Even if you are confident and extroverted, you may need practice, because you may need to learn to adjust to the expectations of others.

Here are a few actions to help the new-to-social executive to get ready for the art of social collaboration: 

  1. Start by being social: The technology is just a facilitator of conversations. Do you go out of your way to have social conversations in your organisation now? Are you mentoring and helping others across the organisation now? When did you last have a coffee meeting with no agenda? It is no good running chats on twitter or posting think pieces on Linkedin, if you don’t talk to your own employees or customers in the foyer. Start using your new social mindsets and engaging a wider audience in other ways first.
  2. Choose a purpose: When starting out in social collaboration, focus helps build reasons for connection.  Choose the one topic on which you want to start to engage purposefully with others. If you can’t think of anything else, choose one of your corporate strategy, meeting talented people or better understanding customers. Add these topics to your everyday conversations and your team. Refine your purpose as you go. Eventually this purpose will flower into a personal manifesto.
  3. Reflect & Start to share your learnings: New-to-social executives often say “But what do I have to say?”. The things that you share are going to come from the interactions in your day and responses to the activity of others. Reflect on what you experience and read each day. Start to take some notes about what these experiences mean for you and what you learn (Tools like Evernote are handy for this). Those insights are ideas that you can share. Explain to others how these ideas came about. They might seem minor to you but to others without your experience your thought process can be incredibly valuable. Over time this will become a form of Personal Knowledge Management where you constantly refine what you read, capture insights, and also learn how you share your insights with others.
  4. Test the influence of your insights: Most senior executives are used to their teams listening to their words. Social audiences are busy with many competing voices. You may need to test how influential your ideas are before you debut them to a wider and more discerning audience. You may need to adjust your style of communication. Social favours the short, sharp and punchy. Run some tests sharing your thoughts in a variety of different means through email, internal social posts, voluntary talks or blogging internally. Measure the response and seek feedback. Use that feedback to refine your style and your messaging. 
  5. Start Working Out Loud in your Enterprise Social Network:  There is no better place to practice social collaboration than in your organisation’s Enterprise Social Network.  You will be practising in front of an audience that is well aware of your fame, power and influence. They will be forgiving. Use your enterprise social network to start to practice Working Out Loud. Develop new habits that you can carry over to external social media. Make sure you get the network’s mobile applications so that you can easily access, share and respond to others as you go about your busy life. Most important of all, learn the lessen that the value of social collaboration grows with your consistency and your effort.

From that point on there are plenty of experts that tell you how to use Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social tools for business.

Search, experiment and keep the practices that work for you 

This is the second of two short posts on tips for the senior executive looking to move into using social collaboration tools inside and outside the enterprise. This post deals with actions to get you started. The previous post dealt with mindsets.

The New-to-Social Executive: 5 Mindsets

Your mindset matters to how you are perceived and connect in social media. Whether internal or external to your organisations, the way you think and the way you lead play a critical role in your ability to influence others.  As a senior leader atop the hierarchy, you have power and influence in your organisation (Admittedly that’s rarely quite as much as you would like). When you take your leadership position into the realm of social collaboration whether internal to your organisation or externally, there are a few key shifts in mindset from traditional models of leadership.

Keep these in mind these five key phrases:

  1. Be the real human (& sometimes flawed) you”: Nobody is looking to get to know your communication manager’s idea of you. People don’t need you to be the perfect model executive. You can’t have a conversation with a corporate cardboard facade or get help from a PR bot. This is an opportunity to be more human and to use deeper connection and communication. It will demand that you share more of you. If there is more than one of you, one for work and others, then social collaboration will test your ability to maintain the curtain of separation. Using social media works best when you bring your whole self to the activity. You will learn new ways to demonstrate your strengths and authenticity in the process.
  2. Think networks”: Social media flattens out the playing ground. Your current fame, power and fortune won’t deliver worthwhile connections or influence immediately. In this environment, your voice competes with many others and those that are better connected and more trusted will have greater influence than you regardless of their status. Your voice & authority is much more easily challenged and even mocked. Influence works along networks of trust and connections. Valuable business traction comes from deepening connections to stakeholders and influencers in your own world. Start there and build your influence over time as new connections join in to the valuable interactions that you help create.
  3. ListenEngage others”: Listen first. The network doesn’t need to hear you. Mostly it won’t. The network doesn’t need another opinion; it needs your response to and your engagement in the conversations already going on. If you want to deliver on your strategy, the path is through helping others to better align, understand and deliver that strategy with you. How you engage with others is more important in building influence in your network than who you are or what you have to say.
  4. Be helpful”: Make connections & help others find those who can help them. Set context. Guide others. Enable others. Share stuff to help others solve problems for themselves. Ask great, thoughtful & challenging questions. Work aloud and let others prove their value by helping you. Connect with people to deliver them value. People are looking to learn more and help themselves. As a senior leader you can play a critical role
  5. Experiment, learn & change stuff”: The value of human networking is to learn, connect with others and change things. Embrace difference & the chaos that many opinions and desire for change creates. After a while you will recognise the appeal of ‘being permanently beta’, always evolving to better value as you experiment test and learn. If you want to hear your own views, build your personal brand, increase your control or resist change, don’t start in any form of social collaboration. That attitude doesn’t show much respect for the efforts of the others in the network. 

This is the first of two short posts on tips for the senior executive looking to move into using social collaboration tools inside and outside the enterprise. This post deals with mindsets. The next post will deal with how to start engaging.

Middle Managers need to use their Networks and Authority

Middle managers like to complain about being squeezed by pressures from above and below. Their organisations love to blame them for all the ills in the place.

Middle managers have two great advantages that they can use to drive change:

  • They can place themselves in the heart of the network of their organisations.
  • They have authority to make things happen.

Without use, these opportunities whither. Middle managers need to take advantage of them when they can.

Networking in the middle

Frontline employees have very full lives juggling customer expectations. In my experience, they have limited opportunities to engage in networking across the organisation. Enterprise social networks do assist to connect frontline people with the rest of the organisation but the pressures of direct customer engagement often means time is limited and is often focused on better meeting customer needs.

Senior management are often removed from the day-to-day interactions in the organisation because of the scale of their jobs and the greater exposure to external stakeholders. Nobody wants a hierarchy where messages need to go to the top to spread because it is a terribly inefficient way to share information.

If middle management is to have any meaningful role, middle managers needs to play a role networking the organisation across the middle.  Middle manager jobs should give them enough perspective and exposure to their peers to seek and share information widely across the silos and beyond. As nodes in the network of the organisation, managers can dramatically increase their influence sharing information, connecting people, reducing duplication and guiding action. Build a reputation as a generous middle manager who is happy to collaborate, share information and advise and you will find people beating a path to your door.  Your authority increases when you want to act.

Authority to act

When everyone around you assumes authority depends on hierarchical position, having any hierarchical power is an advantage to action. You don’t need to be at the top, you just need the respect of others. Yet many middle managers wait assuming further endorsement is required.

What middle managemers needs to do is leverage their network position and their hierarchical opportunity. Organisations often give way to people who have hierarchical power who are prepared to act, especially where the activity is beneficial and well aligned to strategy and purpose.

When I was a mid-level manager in NAB, a group of graduates came to me wanting to know whose authority they needed to set up a TEDX style speaking program in NAB.  I told them they needed no authority.  It was a great idea, there was a demand and there was no obvious sponsor in the organisational hierarchy.  Finding one would be more work than organising the first event.

I suggested that they could do it themselves and start straight away.  For safety’s sake, I told them that if they were challenged on their authority they should say I approved it.  When they did get a challenge, that answer was more than enough because the people who worry about permission rarely have the courage to check its source. A TEDX style event sat well with the culture that NAB was building and the strategy of being more open and aligned to customers and the community. The first TEDX event had over 200 internal attendees and the events which were run by volunteer graduates for 2 more years were huge successes.

Network and Use Authority

If you are a middle manager and want that role to continue in your organisation, don’t fall for the blame game.  Network yourself to increase your authority and use whatever authority you have to add value in line with the organisation’s purpose and strategy.

Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware

Assigned. Chosen. Earned. Part 2 – 2 Stories and a Challenge

We shape our impact with our choices of how we respond to our circumstances and the influence we earn in our networks.  Our jobs and the hierarchy do not determine our ability to influence.

That concise message was prompted by The Australian Leadership Paradox, a book on improving leadership in Australia by tackling issues like roles and authority. Geoff Aigner, one of the co-authors, asked me for stories that brought a richer context to my last post. Here are two examples:

A Job. Limited Power.

At the launch of the Academy in NAB, I was asked to become the inaugural Dean of Customer Experience.  The job was tasked with building customer experience capability enterprise wide across a large financial services group.  As a direct report of the Australian CEO, the job was a high profile one in an important initiative.  

However, that description was where the hierarchical power stopped.  The role had no direct reports.  Everyone in learning reported to other leaders in a central learning function or across the many businesses.  There was no reporting on how much learning work was actually going on. The activity and budgets sat in these widely distributed teams. Everyone already had too much work. The Academy was being created because there was a need for better collaboration across businesses on learning. Nobody had seen a Dean before and there was no idea yet what they did.

I had to choose the role that I would play. I could have seen the situation as impossible and quickly failed. I could have chosen to influence the CEO and leverage his power to direct action. However, the giddy sensation of power would be temporary and the businesses would have quickly locked me out. The CEO would have rightly questioned the value I added. My authority would erode if it did not come from my relationships.

I chose instead to share my passion for learning, to advocate for the Academy and to help facilitate a community of the learning professionals across the organisation.  I chose to engage the business by demonstrating new ways for learning to lead change, to solve problems and to demonstrate the value of collaboration. Over time, my authority and my influence increased because of the impact the Academy team delivered.  People began to ask the Deans and the Academy to help solve tricky issues well beyond learning. That influence continued when I left the job.  After all, nobody had told me what role to play, so nobody could tell me to stop just because a job went away.

Why Are You Doing This Again?

The experience of being Dean led to my role in helping sponsor and grow NAB’s Yammer community.  When Yammer began at NAB, it was unofficial with no budget or sponsorship.  There was no place for it in the hierarchy. For the Yammer community to grow, it needed many leaders to choose play the roles of sponsors, advocates and community leaders, because these roles were not in anyone’s job description.  

Over and over again, as we did this, we were each asked a variant of the question:

Why are you doing this again?

Our answer was simple.  The roles were needed and the community added great value to NAB.  It was not our job but somebody had to do it.  We could play the roles and so we chose to do so.

For five years, I worked with other leaders in that Yammer community.  Everyone’s time was volunteered above delivery of the expectations their day jobs which ranged from Graduate to Executive General Manager. We did what was required to build a successful and vibrant community. The roles we played grew the benefits for NAB and the engagement of the community until we ultimately prepared a business case for sponsorship and formal adoption by the company.  

In this process, each of those leaders built their unique position of authority in the community. Many of the leaders got new roles as a result of demonstrating their ability to play different roles and their growing authority. In addition, the community was stronger because its leadership came from within.

Over to you: A challenge – your new role

  1. What problem or opportunity can you see that doesn’t fit in somebody’s job?
  2. What role could you play to draw attention to or solve for that problem or opportunity?
  3. Whose authority & support do you need to make the change happen?

Your value is your network

Most of us will never get to manage a large hierarchy. Many of those who do complain about their lack of power.

We assume our power and value comes from position in hierarchies. We are trained by our social structures to see these pyramids as sources of power and value. Our hierarchical status influences our health and happiness.  Hierarchical instincts may well run back to our ape brain. There is a very good chance that hierarchy is solving for problems that don’t reflect our current challenges.

I was reflecting on the new maps feature of Linkedin and what struck me was that the hierarchies of my past life were hard to see in the network diagram. In fact, what I saw prompted this:

Hierarchy is the smallest and least valuable part of my network. The relationships formed in hierarchy have disappeared into a much more valuable & diverse mesh of relationships.

If my relationships were created by hierarchies, what created value was direct connection and a net of common relationships that lasted long after the hierarchies changed. Little value came from connections mediated through the hierarchies.

In addition, when I look beyond the hierarchies, I saw a much richer and more valuable network of relationships.  

There were the networks of support. So many people gave me the skills and experiences that helped make me who I am. So many people sustained me and were my sources of advice and counsel. Then there were the hundreds of collaborators

There were networks of value too. Customers and community determine the value that I create in the world. Creating change and making things happen has always been more about ability to influence and collaborate in this wider network than the power to order anything.

In a networked world, it might be time to think differently about influence and value. Stop looking at the hierarchy and look to the network that surrounds it. We may all be more effective, healthier and happier as a result.

What are you working to achieve?

‘What are you working to achieve?’

Working out loud is not a common enough experience yet.  Many people are still reticent to share their goals, their challenges and their work.  

That makes a question about what people are working to achieve a very powerful one, because it:

  • helps people clarify their purpose and goals
  • separates wishes from tangible action
  • moves beyond appearances, titles and surface issues to form the basis for a deeper context, connection and conversation
  • enables you to identify how you or others can contribute to help

I ask this kind of question a lot.  I find it is incredibly valuable for simply building rapport.  You have a lot more to discuss when you know where someone is devoting their efforts.  

However, it also enables further action to help.  Just this morning I asked the question of somebody that I did not know well.  Turns out I have networks that will assist them to achieve their goals more quickly. That makes the question a powerful engine of collaboration. You can’t help if you don’t know.

If others are not sharing their work, ask them what it is that they are working to achieve.

Having social fun (at work)

Remember fun?


Those little activities that bring a smile to your face and connect you more deeply with colleagues over a laugh or a giggle.

It is not too late. You too can be responsible for bringing the fun back to your workplace. The perfect place to start is your organisation’s enterprise social network. Everyone’s there. Waiting for fun to break out. Your audience is crying out for something a little more engaging than the latest link to a compliance policy update.

I recently saw this call for help

Here’s a few ideas that I shared with Jakkii and a few more to pad out the list. They just might help get you started with your own fun. Be inspired:

  1. Offer free steak knives: Marketers do it for a reason. People go silly for steak knives. Start a fun competition today with steak knives as a prize. Your local supermarket has really cheap steak knives. 
  2. Do introductions: Ask everyone to introduce themselves in 140 characters or less. Ask people to describe their worst job, most embarrassing moment, best day, etc.  Offer prizes (see steak knives above) for the most likes, most creative, funniest, etc
  3. Memes: They work on the web for a reason. Search for a meme generator. Send your next serious message in an amusing meme image. You will be surprised how much attention it gets. You might even start a trend of posting more memes, gifs, cat pictures, etc.
  4. Pictures: The sillier the better. Yes, including cat pictures.
  5. Baking competitions:  If two people in your office bake, then have a competition. If you don’t have two, make someone senior bake as a challenge. You might inspire a few more cupcake makers. Who doesn’t like fun that you also get to eat for morning tea?  Photos & reviews go on the network
  6. Event themes: Does your ESN dress up for cup carnival, sporting events or the holiday season? If not, why not? 
  7. Create groups for water cooler conversations, movies, television programs, jokes or any other topic that might engage people.  Most radically of all, let people create their own groups. To have fun (at work)
  8. Set challenges: A quiz, a treasure hunt, a challenge, a target, a quest, etc. Design activities that engage with a smile and preferably generate photos and stories.
  9. Recruit champions of fun: If someone has previously created a smile, invite them to an offline meeting of funsters. Plan your next attacks.
  10. Lists: I got to ten. So can you. I could go on, but where’s the fun in that?

The power of social networking at work is the opportunity for people to engage socially while working. Rapport building involves the little stuff as well as the serious stuff.  If you take the lead, others will follow. Post in line with your company’s culture and you will be fine. Don’t try to do standup. Start small and it will grow.

If your organisation will not allow any fun: Then absolutely make sure that you don’t have any. Deprive others of fun (and try not to have fun doing that). Most importantly ask yourself how long you will last.

The point of all this fun: Aside from the obvious, you will engage a lot more people and give them an opportunity to try their first post or first like.

PS: Forgot this when writing the original post. Don’t forget #funhashtags. #needisaymore ?

Infrastructure of culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker

Enterprise social networks are a new form of communication in organisations. Culture is the outcome of how we interact. New interactions will change the culture of our organisations over time. Managing culture changes is critical for organisations coping with disruption.

Adam Pisoni recently quoted a comment I made at Disrupt.Sydney that enterprise social networks are ‘infrastructure of culture’. The comment was building on Kai Riemer’s talk at Disrupt.Sydney that technology that acts as infrastructure (of connection, of transportation or of communication) is open to novel uses and depends on users to make new sense of the infrastructure. Kai was drawing a distinction with our traditional tool based view of technology where it exists for a specific purpose. This point highlights one reason why we often have an inability to forecast where new communication technologies lead us in terms of changes in interactions and societal change.

Enterprise Social Networking is an Infrastructure for Culture

The culture of an organisations is a sum of the interactions across the organisation. It is the ‘way we do things around here’ or ‘what happens when the CEO is out of the room’.  Culture runs deep and is the outcome of thousands of interactions. Speeches, posters and announcements don’t determine culture. As social animals, people look for guides as to what is acceptable in the stories of the organisation, the daily behaviours of others as they interact and importantly in how moments of crisis or conflict in the community are resolved. What happens when things get uncertain is at the core of the culture of a company.

Disruptive change tests the culture of organisations. Shaped by purpose and values as demonstrated in action, culture has an enormous influence on how the organisation runs and what is possible. Many organisations need new strategies to respond to disruption. However, if your strategy runs counter to your culture you will face challenges and likely fail. In the face of disruption, many organisations have found they simply cannot pivot their strategy because it threatens some deep elements of their culture.

A common goal of launching an enterprise social network to execute a strategy to ‘change  culture’. Looking for more leadership, authenticity, accountability, openness or innovation, organisations assume that the network is a tool to deliver that outcome. These organisations are usually disappointed initially. Culture changes the strategy. All they see at first in the community on their network is their organisation’s current culture, just much more visible than ever before. The good, the bad and the ugly is on display. Even worse, the much vaunted new values from the strategy are often not on display because the community is not yet comfortable with those novel interactions, is waiting for a lead from others or does not accept that they can be arbitrarily imposed from above.

Communication networks are infrastructure, not tools. The change in culture is in the community adopting new behaviours, not the technology. The potential of enterprise social networks to change the culture of organisations occurs over time as the interactions change. Importantly, social networks offer opportunities to accelerate this change.

How do new interactions accelerate change the culture of the organisation?

  • Build common purpose:  Social networks are a place to discuss and connect around purpose. Purpose is not imposed.  It comes out from interactions and work in the organisation. Too often when organisations have a new strategy, it is the executive team who assumes the right to set the purpose and only they understand the context that drives the need for change. A social network allows others to discuss and question this.
  • Empower change agents:  enterprise social networking often appeals to a group of early adopters, your organisational change agents. This group of diverse individuals have been looking for a way to have a larger voice, to connect and to drive change. These early adopters will drive a lot of the initial interactions & innovations.  Their goals are each different but they are often more comfortable with many of the values that organisations seek such as collaboration, openness, innovation and experimentation. The challenge for organisations looking to leverage these individuals to drive change is to authorise their activities and encourage the new interactions in constructive directions. Senior leaders can use their authority to play a key role in ensuring that your network does not become a sub-culture of the broader organisation.
  • Lead and role model: People look for role models and leaders. They will follow their guide in the behaviours that they demonstrate. Build a group of leaders of the community and let them know that they are responsible for fostering constructive interactions. Make sure your hierarchical leaders are playing a positive role and not discouraging change.
  • Share stories:  We learn culture from stories of interactions. Social networks allow us to share those stories in new ways and with new audiences. Encourage story telling and make sure you are looking to draw out the cultural lessons of the stories being told.
  • Make interactions visible:  Social networks are a new medium to see interactions. Remember the majority of people will watch, read and learn. Your culture will be on display and shared more widely than ever before.
  • Create interactions across sub-cultures:  Large organisations are often frustrated by the number of sub-cultures as communities within the organisation develop their own interactions. These sub-cultures often create unresolved conflicts blocking progress. Connect these individuals in one community and let them learn about each others contexts. Building shared purpose, concerns and understanding will build a greater commonality of culture.
  • Create conflict:  If there are values conflicts or other regular interactions driving conflict in your organisation, they will surface in enterprise social networking. The faster you bring these out the sooner culture changes. How you work to resolve these through collaboration will be key to your future culture. Remember it is better to resolve these internally before they leak externally through employees or other partners experiencing the conflicts and sharing them.
  • Allow the creation new interactions:  As infrastructure, an enterprise social network is open to employees, leaders and other participants to create new interactions.  If you encourage experimentation and quickly weed out failures, you will be driving innovation in your culture as each new successful pattern of interaction develops.  Embrace the chaos and you will see rewards as your culture develops.

Communities change culture when they adopt new interactions through the role modelling of others and the support of leaders. Enterprise social networking is an infrastructure to accelerate this process through new interactions and innovation. Disruption often demands rapid changes to organisation’s cultures that have been built up over many, if not hundreds of years. Networking the community within the organisation is critical to enabling the organisation to manage that change.